After an opening night loss to the Clippers, the Lakers got back on track with a blowout win over the Mavericks on Christmas. It was the type of offensive showing this team is capable of, casually dropping 138 points on an array of long range shooting, paint attacks, and offensive rebounding to bludgeon them. Tonight, against the Timberwolves, the hope is that they can continue that same approach…
In getting to the X’s and O’s of this matchup, a player to watch tonight is Marc Gasol. He’s not played well to start the season, finding himself out of sorts defensively and not as much of an initiator offensively. Defensively, Gasol’s lack of footspeed has shown up in the P&R, in transition, and when having to make some of the longer rotations the Lakers ask their big men to make when they get into scramble situations. Offensively, he’s mostly been a bystander and screener and much less a facilitator where his skills can be best utilized.
Against the Wolves, some of these same matchup issues are right there front and center in his battle with Karl Anthony-Towns. KAT is one of the league’s best offensive centers, and specifically one the best stretch bigs. He will linger around the perimeter both as a trail man and via pick and pops and force the types of coverages Gasol has struggled with so far this year.
Will Gasol be able to switch outright in P&R’s and hold up against D’Angelo Russell, Rubio, Jarrett Culver, Anthony Edwards, etc, etc? Will he be able to hedge and recover to Towns on the perimeter and either contest the long jumper or stay attached on show-and-go’s that Towns will use to attack off the bounce? This bears watching because if he can’t, the Lakers will need to go in a different direction.
Another thing to watch for will be whether AD even suits up for this game or not, because he’s the most natural antidote to Towns’ offensive brilliance. He’s listed as questionable with a calf contusion and with this game being the first night of a back to back, it wouldn’t surprise me if the team held him out. Remember, AD was probable with this same issue on Christmas and played great, moving well pretty much the entire game. But, with the Lakers clearly wanting to be careful with their stars early in the season, AD could end up in street clothes tonight.
In the bigger picture, and beyond Gasol, the thing I’ll be interested in watching is LeBron’s general approach to a game like this one. Opening night when you get your championship ring and then Christmas Day are two of the bigger games you can have in any season, but you’re not going to find two bigger games to start a year than those. With the Lakers about to settle into the normal NBA schedule now (back to back Sunday/Monday and then a road trip to finish this week), Bron’s day to day approach and how much of a bellweather he is for the team is going to be worth watching.
Against the Wolves he has matchup advantages in any direction he’ll look. Whether it’s Malik Beaseley or Jarrett Culver or Anthony Edwards or on down the line, Bron shouldn’t have too many issues with most every defender this team will throw at him. That said, will he push to exploit them? Will he race in transition? Will he go to the post? I trust him to know how hard to go or how to best attack, but in these early stages of the year, I’ll have an extra eye on this sort of thing.
As for the rest of the team, this should be a night where Schröder, Harrell, and Kuzma can replicate their efforts from Friday’s game vs. the Mavs. In that matchup, they were able to get to their spots on the floor and threaten the defense whenever they chose. Minnesota has been solid defensively to start the season, but they’re not packed with high level defenders (Culver has real potential there and Josh Okogie is quite good) and if you stretch them out and then attack the creases you should be able to generate good looks.
So, I hope to see these younger guys get out and continue to show their value by lifting up the rest of the team. They’re talented enough to do so and it would go a long way in helping to ease the burden that Bron and AD face on any given night.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.